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Council makes move to protect tug-of-war stars

By Declan Bogue

The Ulster Council have taken steps to ensure that the decision of players to play for their college despite being selected for their county in the forthcoming Dr McKenna Cup will be made easier with the appointment of a mediator in contentious cases.

In recent weeks, the council had established a working group, headed up by GAA presidential hopeful Aoghan Farrell to look into the difficulties experienced by colleges over recent years in securing the services of their more experienced players, who had also been selected to play for their counties.

There has been significant upheaval around this problem, culminating last year when Queen's University pulled out of the competition entirely.

At last week's meeting of the Competitions Control Committee, the working group reported that meetings with each Ulster county confirmed they were unanimously in favour of retaining the colleges in the January tournament, believing the greater numbers makes for a more enticing schedule of games.

There already exists a rule that colleges have first pick on players, but the inability of the council to enforce that rule has led to considerable rancour. However, the appointment of a respected go-between could be key to finding a resolution to the ongoing problem.

PRO of the Ulster Council John Connolly said: "What the workgroup was saying to us, was that we have to work with the regulation that we have. We enforce it fairly strongly and will ask counties to let colleges have first call on players.

"If, in the event of a tug-of-war somewhere along the line – which we would hope there won't be – but if there is, we will appoint a mediator to work between whichever players are involved, their colleges and the county."

Connolly feels that the players have been previously placed in a difficult position, fearing that their loyalty to their college could be interpreted as a lack of loyalty to their county, leaving their place on a county panel vulnerable. Having an intermediary figure will make life easier for a player in this regard, Connolly believes.

"We feel that will take the pressure off the player. The players in these cases are in the middle and unsure. If he does not play for his county he may not get on the National League panel.

"What we are saying is that we will appoint a mediator and hopefully we can solve it that way. The regulation has been there for the last number of years, the only change is the appointment of a mediator for dialogue in the event of a dispute.

"It's a positive for the Ulster Council that the colleges are involved. We want that to continue but there was a b it of a problem over the last while. We hope to put that to bed, move on and make the draw, get the pairings and the fixtures over the next couple of weeks."

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